Sangita Uranw describes the first time she saw the inside of a theatre: jaw- dropping. Used to performing street dramas, where passersby jostled to watch her, she had never been inside a proper theatre. She did not know that there were places where plays were staged.
Uranw, 22, is the first professional actress from the Uranw, a sidelined and neglected Tarai community. Few in her native Kuchhita village of Sunsari are educated, and rarely do women leave households. Uranw’s story, therefore, is itself drama in real life, and provides an example of how previously unseen sections of society are now actors on the national scene.
“I was interested in acting from a very young age, dressing up and performing at home,” recalls Uranw (pronounced: Oo-raa-o with a nasal intonation in the ‘raa’). “I got involved in child clubs, and then in street dramas where we spread awareness on issues like child marriage, dowry, sanitation.”
When Ghimire Yubaraj, director of Shilpee Theatre, went to Sunsari to give theatre training, he spotted 18-year-old Uranw’s potential talent and offered her a three-month scholarship in Kathmandu.
“At first my parents worried about where I would stay, what I would eat. ‘Are you really going to become an actor?’ they would ask. But in the end, my passion convinced them,” says Uranw.
She first started re-enacting her village life at Shilpi: she created stories, fleshed out characters, and saw dramatic potential in the ordinary.
“Sangita created a memorable solo performance in Uranw and Nepali languages, where she acts as ten different characters. Interestingly, the story is told by a crab. She brings her village to life,” says her mentor Ghimire Yubaraj.
Making a dramatic crablike entrance, Sangita does a half back flip, lands on her back, and walks backwards on two hands and two feet. A little girl takes the crab home and it narrates how her alcoholic father drinks instead of taking her to the hospital, how her stepmother assigns chores to her, how eager she is for a glimpse of her neighbour’s TV.
“As children, we used to go to the paddy fields in monsoon to plant rice, and to look for crabs in the rivers to eat in chutneys,” remembers Uranw.
That is what I want to bring to stage: stories that I have seen, felt and experienced. We have so many stories in every village of Nepal, but we rarely see them on stage, and I want to change that.”
She found that particular story in the life of her friend, who had a difficult time after her mother passed away. The 30 minute solo performance was scary for her at first, but shows her dedication and passion for the craft: it was praised for capturing the essence of life in the Uranw community after being staged at Shilpee Theatre and travelling to Morang and Jhapa. Her family, including her mother, attended the play in Biratnagar and were proud to see her perform.
While she learns and works at Shilpee Theatre, Uranw is also attending college, and is grateful for her family’s support. “The most important thing for them is that I am getting to study. And, as long as I continue my education, they will not complain,” she says. But for Uranw herself, theatre always comes first.
Over the past three years she has worked in six plays and feels there are many other Uranw youth who have the talent to be on stage and also succeed in many other fields. She says: “There were no actors from the Uranw community, but I succeeded because of my family’s trust and support. There are many others like me, and they can excel in whatever they want to do if they get the opportunity.”
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